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Buddhadharma : Fall 2007
fall 2007| 60 |buddhadharma word “platform.” A publisher takes into account whether or not the author has spent significant time building an audi- ence and making a name for themselves, which is usually done by giving talks or publishing articles. This isn’t just the way to build a brand name, but it’s also a way for the author to refine an argument. You might think this is all backwards. Shouldn’t the book be the platform and provide the vehicle for bring- ing the author to the public? However, in the eyes of the publisher, the financial risk is often too great to take the chance that the work of an unknown writer or an unknown dharma teacher will eventually take off and become an important book. So the people who are often published these days in Buddhist publishing are the ones with name recognition. amy hertz: This is a more recent devel- opment. When I first started publishing books in the late eighties, it was not about platform. It was about an idea back then, but the business has changed. It used to be that the independent booksellers were the majority of the market, so you could build an effective campaign using your sales rep to sell an idea, because it was a good, well-thought-out, and well-written book. It helped if somebody had a following, but it wasn’t essential. I published a book called The Jew and the Lotus. Nobody knew the author, Roger Kamenetz, but it had a strong idea. It took off, and now it’s a staple of HarperSanFrancisco’s backlist. That was the sort of book that indepen- dents understood there was an audience for. So you could build it slowly over time, let it catch on and sink in, let word of mouth carry it along. Now, the book busi- ness is much more like the movie business. The independents are less than ten percent of the market now. It’s all about the chain stores. They used to give you only ninety days for a book to work. Now, they give you thirty days before they start send- ing it back. There’s a lot of pressure on a mainstream publisher to get something to work quickly and to work big, which of course accounts for the need for an author to have a platform upfront. reed malcolm: A large percentage of the book-buying business is now in the hands of fewer and fewer people. Traditionally, a local bookstore would decide what to display in its window. Many small book- stores meant a wide range of choices, but now you have one person working for a chain store out of the head office who is making split-second ordering and display decisions for entire regions of the coun- try. That places enormous pressure on the publisher to get that chain store buyer’s attention. You just have a few seconds to pitch and entice a buyer. robert sharf: Are they seeing anything other than the cover and the blurb? amy hertz: Sometimes that’s all, but many of these buyers are reading the book and sometimes they will really fall in love with something and get behind it. There are thoughtful buyers out there. tim mcneill: Buyers can be difficult, and they do have a lot of influence, but there’s one buyer we deal with who has studied Buddhism and has a real affinity for it, and it shows in his buying decisions. For us that means that a book can get well placed across the country, which can determine how long it will be around for people to read. reed malcolm: We’ve had the experience of a chain store buyer telling us that know anything about Buddhism or care about it started jumping into publishing Buddhist books. As a result, they may have launched people into the forefront who might not have been as authentic as one would hope. tim mcneill: I see stuff being published that I really don’t think is good Buddhism, and I’ve also seen material that has been edited precisely to increase its sales poten- tial, largely from big commercial pub- lishers. I attended teachings by the Dalai Lama in New York that were turned into a book, and in that case the editing pro- cess greatly diminished what he said and what I experienced of him at the event. amy hertz: There is really no need to do that. You can leave teachings intact to offer to their intended audience. tim mcneill: We’re putting out a book of teachings that the Dalai Lama gave in the south of France on a Dzogchen text. It very carefully follows what he said, but it runs to 370 pages. amy hertz: I never would have been able to do that kind of book in the houses I’ve worked for. I attended teachings His Holiness gave in the Beacon Theatre a few years back, and I remember think- ing, how on earth are they going to do this without completely changing what was said. That’s hard to do. reed malcolm: When publishers are decid- ing what to publish these days, they are not only looking at the subject and the quality of the writing, but they are also considering what now goes by the buzz- We will not publish anything we feel distorts the dharma or mixes and matches traditions. We look for authentic Buddhism, but we also look for books that could be more accessible. — Tim McNeill 1992 1976 1976